Christians Watching Movies with Other Christians

In Part 1 of this series, I advocated for biblical awareness of your conscience.  This means realizing that your conscience, though imperfect, is a gift from God and should be used prayerfully for making Christian decisions in your everyday life.  We applied this to the small topic of watching movies.  What movies can Christians watch?  Answering this question requires an honest and brutal probing of your reasoning for the movies you decide to see.  First ask yourself if the movie is permissible for you.  Secondly, ask if that permission is rooted in your freedom in Christ or your numbness to sin.  If, after prayer, you realize you’ve been making decisions based on numbness, then it wasn’t actually permissible in the first place and repentance should be your quick response.

But that’s mostly an issue of your heart.  The decision-making process takes on a new and important nuance when other people enter the mix.

In this blog post, let’s look at two hypothetical scenarios concerning how our movie choices affect other Christians, and from the Scriptures we’ll see how our poor responses can lead to two terrible consequences.

Response #1: Diminish the Work of the Cross

Let’s say a Christian friend organizes a casual get-together at his apartment.  For a few hours everyone talks and eats and plays games, but eventually it is suggested the group watches a movie.  After a vote, the winning film happens to be rated R.  Almost everyone agrees the content is permissible.  (For now, we won’t discuss the content; we’ll save that for another blog post.)  Someone in the room – we’ll call her Michelle – gathers her things and says to you, “I can’t believe you’re going to sit here and watch an R-rated movie” as she judgmentally walks out the door.

Let’s also say you didn’t know that Michelle came from a church background of legalism.  Her church required its members to abstain from R-rated movies (which, by the way, is completely fine), but it also encouraged its members to forbid other Christians from watching R-rated movies (which, by the way, is not).  So Michelle had it firmly in her head that in order to be a Christian one must not watch R-rated movies.

Does Michelle have a weak conscience?  No, I highly doubt that.  She is not tempted by R-rated movies.  The issue is deeper than that.

What did the Spirit of Christ say to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when Paul complained of inadequacy?  Look at the text.  Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you….”  In Ephesians 1:3, Paul says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”  Look also to Paul’s astonishing claim in Colossians 2:10 where he says, “…you have been given fullness in Christ”.  The NKJV translates it like this, “you are complete in Him”.

Michelle’s legalism doesn’t understand what Paul understood, which is this: Jesus Christ is sufficient.  Totally.  Completely.  Absolutely.  Use the most superlative language you can muster to refer to Christ’s sufficiency.  He’s enough all by himself.  That’s why we sing “In Christ Alone”.  Michelle’s legalism leaves no room for this.

D.A. Carson says it this way, “The Word of God will not allow anyone or anything to jeopardize the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus!”

If you had known about Michelle’s legalism, it would’ve been most wise to encourage the group to stay away from R-rated territory and address the issue one-on-one with Michelle later.  This could have circumvented a potentially awkward or embarrassing situation for Michelle.

But since you did not know Michelle’s stance on R-rated films, and she left the get-together with a condemning attitude, then you now have an opportunity to lovingly correct Michelle’s poor understanding of Christ’s sufficiency.  Perhaps you and another mature believer could meet with Michelle and ask her why she left the party in the first place.

What’s important is that the work of the cross is upheld in this situation.  This particular story is hypothetical, but it manifests itself in a variety of ways in real life.  Wisely consider how to respond in such a way that you show abstaining from a certain kind of movie adds nothing to your righteousness.  What a legalist needs is a new and potent dose of simple gospel truth –  namely, that Jesus Christ has given us the fullness of his righteousness.

Response #2: “Destroy” Your Brother in Christ

That last point riles Christians up to speak and act boldly for the sake of the gospel.  Certainly, it’s an important principle to understand and in holding to it, you love your Christian brother or sister.

But here’s a related principle even more often misunderstood, and it also has to do with loving your fellow Christians.

Let’s picture the very same scenario with the get-together, except in this version Michelle leaves quietly halfway through the movie after some of the more textbook R-rated content shows up.  Here, Michelle is not a legalist; she is simply growing in her faith, and that process has not yet given her the same freedom her movie-loving friends have.  (And she may never have the freedom.)

Paul spends several verses in the New Testament magnifying our freedom in Christ.  This is functional freedom.  It means we can actually exercise it.  So if we are convinced the grace of God has given us the freedom to, for instance, watch an R-rated film, then we can watch it.

But consider this passage from the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:15, “If your brother is distressed by what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.  Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”  (To get a clearer understanding of the issue of food and eating, read Part 1.  The audience to whom Paul was writing was facing a similar dilemma as the Christians in Corinth.)

With this freedom also comes a monumental responsibility.  Many times in the Christian life, we are to give up those freedoms so that a brother or sister won’t fall into sin.  This is what Paul is talking about Romans 14:15.  If your conscience allows you to watch a particular movie that contains what some Christians would consider questionable content, that does not mean you are free to watch and flaunt and praise that movie willy nilly.  Your fellow Christians may have consciences that tell them to stay away from such content.  And you, by your watching and referencing, tempt those Christians to defile their conscience.

Let me paraphrase Paul: “If your brother or sister is distressed by what you watch, then you are no longer acting in love.”  This means in spite of your freedom, you are to strategically set it aside.

Here’s the problem: during the voting process, the entire group remained silent on the issue of conscience.  So in going forward with the relatively innocuous decision to watch the movie, no one realized they became the source of temptation for Michelle.  She sat back and saw her Christian brothers and sisters freely choose the movie and perhaps she thought, “If they can do it, so can I.”  Of course that thought changed quickly as her conscience felt stung by the needles of a poor decision.

So the preemptive response should have been, at the very least, to remind the group that an R-rated film might go against the conscience of some of the people there with them.  Probably the best decision is to simply resolve to not watch R-rated movies when such a varied group is present.

But no one in the room said anything, so Michelle was forced to leave awkwardly because the group was not willing to lay aside their freedoms.  Now your response must be repentance and, preferably, an apology for Michelle for causing her to stumble.

You say, “This is such a small deal?  Why take it so seriously?”  But what is at stake?  Paul says, “Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” The faith of your brother and sister in Christ is at stake.  A right understanding of the gospel is at stake.  If you approve of a movie your “weaker” Christian friend cannot, you make that movie of more worth than the gospel itself.

Jesus and Freedom

Don’t forget Christ gave up all his freedoms for us.  Realize the one who spoke the earth into existence had his body nailed to a tree for us.  This is the most radical, self-giving picture we have of laying aside one’s freedom.  Look to him if you’re not sure how to give up your own freedom.

And don’t forget a movie is, after all, only a movie.  We have a tendency to magnify the greatness of the movie experience in ways that are not helpful.  The more we do that, the harder it is to give up our freedom in this particular issue.

So speak more highly of our Triune God than of the latest blockbuster.  He is worth the laying aside of our freedoms, and most certainly, so are our brothers for whom Christ died.

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For more on the broader principles of “weak” and “strong” Christians, I recommend the following sermons:

Eric Naus: “Inconvenient Love” – Romans 14:13-23

D.A. Carson: “That By All Means I Might Win Some” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

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This post also appears on the blog for the Crossroads University Ministry at The Moody Church and can be viewed here.

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Christians Watching Movies

Have you ever had that moment when you are walking out of the movie theatre having just watched one of the funniest movies you’ve ever seen, and all the friends with whom you watched it are quoting the best lines, and you are all laughing and having a blast – but in a small, stinging moment of conviction, a terrible thought crosses your mind:  I shouldn’t have watched that.

Me too.  I feel you.  I smell what you’re stepping in.

What was your response to that twinge of guilt?  If you are like me (especially the high school version of me) you probably shrugged off that guilty conscience and moved on with your life, which included more trips to the Cineplex to see movies your conscience told you not to see.

Let me be clear: this is not innocent behavior.

In the Bible, the conscience is no small thing.  In Romans 2, the Apostle Paul affirms that every person is born with a conscience.  It is an inherent “moral compass”, which gives to its carrier the ability, in some measure, to distinguish good from evil.  Rejecting your conscience is a dangerous path to walk.

With regard to movies the question, then, is should Christians see films because films are not bad in and of themselves?  Or should Christians abstain from films because most of them promote sin?  The answer is yes.  It simply depends on your conscience.

Killing Living Things

When the Apostle Paul came to the city of Corinth, he preached the gospel and established a church.  This was truly a miraculous event because Corinth was a cesspool of pagan idolatry.  Sometime later, he received word that Christians in Corinth were experiencing confusion over the issue of food sacrificed to idols.

Here was the problem:  At pagan temples animals were sacrificed to the gods.  In many cases, only a portion of the animal was “destroyed” during the ritual and often the rest of the body was sold in the marketplace or used in temple banquets.  A Corinthian buying food in the marketplace could easily take home meat that had been used in pagan worship.  To the average Corinthian, this was a non-issue.  But for a recently converted Christian Corinthian, the idea of eating that meat could conjure up all kinds of memories from their life before knowing Jesus.

Think of it this way: perhaps you know a former alcoholic who heard the gospel and was saved.  Not only were they saved objectively from God’s wrath, they were saved subjectively from alcoholism.  Now, let’s say this recently converted former alcoholic is at the grocery store and passes the liquor aisle.  Is it permissible for him to buy and consume alcohol?  That’s an imperfect analogy, but still something of a similar dilemma the Christians in Corinth were facing.

First, let’s do what Paul does.  Paul isolates the object of the problem – meat sacrificed to idols.  He says there is nothing wrong with the act of eating this meat, and his reasoning is that the so-called gods to which the meat was sacrificed are not gods at all.  If a Christian is worried about some kind of supernatural transfer of power from the idol to the meat, he need not be concerned any longer.  “…there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Cor. 8:6).

And yet, there is some level of knowledge that a Christian can possess that does not penetrate the heart.  It is possible, according to Paul’s reasoning, for a former idol worshiper to know that Jesus is the one true God and yet still have reservations about eating the sacrificed food simply because of its association with the pagan lifestyle.  If that is the case, that worshiper should stay away from the meat.  Why?  Because his conscience confirms it is sin.

So for that former alcoholic: if he has any inkling that his purchasing of alcohol could possibly lead to sin, then purchasing the alcohol is a sin.  He shouldn’t do it.

What happens to the former pagan idolater who does eat the meat and the alcoholic who does buy the alcohol?  Each one, in his own way, pricks his conscience.  And not realizing his conscience is like a living thing, he continues to prick it.  Easier and easier it becomes until he no longer feels even a twinge of pain.  He has desensitized himself.  He’s killed his conscience.

Friends, that’s what happens when we sacrifice innocent behavior in the name of entertainment.  We slowly kill our consciences (some more quickly than others).

Numbness ≠ Freedom

Two Christians walk into a movie theatre to see an R-rated action film.  The MPAA rating says, “Rated R for violence and language”.  Both walk out thoroughly entertained.  It’s possible they saw the exact same movie under the exact same circumstances – and yet one of them sinned.

There are Christians that can watch movies that many of us would deem unwatchable, and they can do it without sinning.  Is it because they’ve “seen enough so it doesn’t affect” them anymore?  No, it’s because they know in their hearts there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, and they are in love with him to the extent that they can freely enjoy a movie.  A movie, like the meat sacrificed to idols, is morally neutral.  It neither brings a person closer to or further from God (1 Cor. 8:8).  If a Christian’s conscience allows it, then it is indeed permissible.

Desensitization is a different matter.  There are Christians (probably more in this category) who do not feel all that bad about the content they take in at the movies.  This isn’t freedom in Christ; it is numbness to sin, and it will lead to a killing of your conscience.

Two Christians walk into a movie theatre.  Which one sinned?  The one who saw it out of numbness to his sin.  If this is you, you’re called to repent.  Acknowledge that your numbness is not freedom and resolve to listen to the gasping voice of your conscience.

Christ-Exalting Conscience

Feeling guilty yet?  Unfortunately that guilt won’t keep you in tune with your conscience forever.  Might I suggest that, in this comparatively trivial issue of “what movies should I see?”, you fix your eyes on the One who was obedient unto death for you.  If you’re weak in your conscience, remember Christ became weak for you.  When you find yourself more captivated by a vision of the cross and resurrection than by a 90-minute action flick, it suddenly won’t be so difficult to hear and obey your conscience.  In doing so you will fall more deeply in love with Jesus and, consequently, your freedom will increase.

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This post also appears on the blog for the Crossroads University Ministry at The Moody Church and can be viewed here.